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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Tea party rage and acceptance of Rubio's role in immigration debate



dont_tread_on_me.pngTea party members are divided over Sen. Marco Rubio's role in the immigration debate, according to interviews with movement leaders and reaction on social media.

"A lot of members are saying it's an amnesty bill. They're not happy with him," said Everett Wilkinson of South Florida, who heads the newly named Liberty Federation boasting more than 100,000 members.

Wilkinson said he's been in contact with Rubio's office and had been given information to help explain Rubio's thinking to tea party members. "Most of them are upset. We feel there's other issues he could be focused on. It could hurt him with the tea party but it's too early to say. This whole thing could go off like an Acme rocket. You never know what direction it's going to go. He may hop off it."

But Henry Kelley of the Florida Tea Party Network said members he's been in touch with are generally supportive of Rubi's approach, which calls for tougher enforcement before a pathway to citizenship kicks in. "There's a recognition there's a problem," Kelley said. "I've always said 'round them up and throw them out' is not a strategy. It's time to deal with this. I don't see this as amnesty."

Kelley acknowledged there's a faction opposed to anything that could lead to citizenship but "the broad tone is 'We have a problem, let's sit down and fix it like adults.' "

The immigration debate is playing out fiercely on social media, with Rubio receiving praise and loathing. @honey basil wrote on Twitter today: "@marcrubio The GOP suckered you or you are not really a conservative. Which is it? Naive or Weasel Politican!?"

The reaction helps explain why Rubio has been playing offense, embarking in recent weeks on a mind-boggling string of interviews with conservative media. The Florida Republican rose to prominence in his 2010 U.S. Senate race with tea party backing (though he's a career pol with establishment roots) and has largely maintained that credibility.

But as he explores a possible run for president, he's also looking for a broader appeal. Immigration provides the chance to show leadership on a complicated issue. Rubio acknowledges that fixing immigration alone won't turn Hispanics to the GOP but says it will clear the way for him and others to pitch the virtues of smaller government.

Erick Erickson of the influential Red State blog pushed aside his adoration for Rubio to write: "I don't like Marco Rubio's plan. There I said it." Today, Rubio wrote back. Read his piece here.

Rubio will have to keep working. Today on Laura Ingraham's radio show Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said this:

“I love and respect Marco. I think he’s just amazingly naïve on this issue. This is the same old formula that we’ve dealt with before, including when it passed in 1986, and that is promises of enforcement and immediate amnesty. And of course, the promises of enforcement never materialize. The amnesty happens immediately — the millisecond the bill is signed into law, and the same is true here. No, they won’t be citizens immediately. They will be legal.”

“Look, as soon as you give these people a legal status, to say that you’re going to reverse that is ridiculous. It’ll never happen. As soon as you give them a legal status, they are here legally forever and probably they’re citizens pretty darn soon after. And if Marco thinks no matter what happens or doesn’t happen on the enforcement side that’s not going to happen, I just think he’s nuts.”


[Last modified: Wednesday, January 30, 2013 7:30pm]


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